Feeding nicotinic acid: Effects on pre-partum cow health, colostrum and calf performance

Key Findings

The nicotinic acid form of the vitamin niacin has been supplemented to dairy cows for several years. Results have indicated that it can reduce incidence rates of ketosis, can alleviate heat stress through increased blood flow and may increase rumen bacteria growth.

Feeding pre-fresh Holstein cows 32 grams per day of the nicotinic acid form of niacin for four weeks before calving results in higher quantity of colostrum and better feed efficiency in the cow's calves.

Niacin is a cost-effective supplement because it costs about one cent per gram. Therefore, producers should expect to pay an additional $0.32/cow per day. However, care in handling nicotinic acid must be taken by wearing a mask to prevent inhalation of the material.

About the Co-Author

A photograph of dairy researcher Peter Erickson

Peter Erickson, Professor of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems

Contact information: Peter.Erickson@unh.edu
603-862-1341, Peter Erickson Lab website

This research was published in the INSPIRED: A Publication of the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (Winter 2021)

Researchers: K.M. Aragona and P.S. Erickson

Colostrum is essential for calf health from the increase in protein content (antibodies and growth factors). However, about 60% of the colostrum produced in the United States fails to meet quality standards. Since nicotinic acid increases blood flow and potentially rumen bacteria growth, adding this to the diet of dry cows could enhance the quality of colostrum for calves. Previous research showed that supplementing dry cows with 48 g/day nicotinic acid for four weeks pre-partum resulted in better quality colostrum. In this study, we further determine the optimal amount to feed cows and study its effect on the dam's calves and their performance.

The experiment was conducted at the University of New Hampshire Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center. Thirty-six Holstein cows were used in the experiment, beginning four weeks before scheduled calving. There were four treatments with nine cows per treatment. Treatments were 0, 16, 32, or 48 g of nicotinic acid per cow per day. Cows entered the experiment when they were four weeks before the predicted calving date. First-calf cows were not used in this experiment. Feed intake and the bodyweight of the cows were monitored. To determine if the niacin increased bacterial counts, urine samples were taken from the cows three times per week and analyzed for purine derivatives which are positively correlated with rumen microbial protein production.

At calving, colostrum was harvested, and the calves received one gallon of colostrum. Colostrum quality and yield were measured. Twenty-four hours after birth, a blood sample was taken to determine the uptake of the immunoglobulin-IgG—the primary antibody for ruminants. On day two, calves received free choice calf starter, free-choice water and four quarts of a conventional milk replacer. Daily feed and water intakes were tracked. Growth measurements were taken at birth and then weekly for six weeks.

Cows fed the various amounts of nicotinic acid reacted similarly across treatments (Table 1). Cows fed increasing amounts of nicotinic acid produced more purine derivatives daily, indicating a greater rumen microbial protein production. This protein would be digested post-ruminally resulting in more amino acids for absorption and production of IgG and other proteins. Results indicated that cows produced similar amounts of colostrum. While there are numerical differences, there was large variability in the data and no statistical differences were observed. However, nicotinic acid supplementation increased colostrum quality (linear effect). But it must be considered that the 48 g/d treatment numerically produced the least amount of colostrum and that the increase in concentration is due to the reduced amount of colostrum produced. This fact comes into focus when we look at IgG yield which peaked (quadratic effect) at the 32 g/d treatment. This value takes into account the concentration of IgG and the yield of colostrum. Protein content increased as nicotinic acid supplementation increased (linear effect). However, the protein yield peaked at the 32 g/d treatment (quadratic effect). Fat content and yield increased quadratically both peaking at the 32 g/d treatment. Therefore, for better quality colostrum 48 g/d supplementation of nicotinic acid is recommended.

All calves received a 20/20 milk replacer at one pound of powder per day. All calves had free choice water and calf starter, both removed and replaced daily. While calves consumed similar amounts of calf starter per day, their average daily gain resulted in a trend for a quadratic effect with the greatest response in calves born of cows fed 32g/d nicotinic acid. This response carried over into feed efficiency. This is a measure of how much growth the calf puts on its body per unit of feed consumed. Calves born of dams fed the 32 g/d treatment resulted in a better feed efficiency response than calves born of dams fed the other treatments. Upon further investigation, most of this response occurred in the first three weeks of life when the calves are getting most of their nutrients from milk and their rumen has yet to develop. Therefore, it appears that there is some component in colostrum that was enhanced by feeding the 32 g/d treatment to their mothers resulting in greater intestinal development. The small intestine is where most nutrients are absorbed at this time in the calf's life.

Table 1: Colostrum yield, quality, and calf performance of cows fed various amounts of nicotinic acid (niacin)

This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 1016574, and the state of New Hampshire. Authors include K.M. Aragona and P.S. Erickson.

Read the NHAES Dairy Report, Winter 2021